LSU Limps to Little Rock

FAYETTEVILLE — LSU has had a lot on the line in its regular season finale the past six seasons.

But the Tigers are in an unusual position this week as they prepare for Friday's game against Arkansas in War Memorial Stadium. They're not ranked, not competing for a division title, and not likely to earn a berth in a New Year's Day bowl game.

The defending national champions have been less-than-impressive this season, struggling to win games in coach Les Miles' fourth year. The Tigers (7-4, 3-4 in Southeastern Conference) dropped three of their past five, including an embarrassing 31-13 loss to Ole Miss last Saturday.

The lackluster play left Miles challenging his team Sunday. Then answering questions about its desire Monday.

"The (2008) team has to say this ain't right," Miles said. "It's right as hard as we work. It's right as well as we're preparing. It's right for us to win and have success. I've challenged them to do it and to put all three phases together and to play for four quarters. Let's find out how good we are."

LSU hasn't gotten that chance for a variety of reasons.

For starters, quarterback problems have hurt the offense. Blown assignments have plagued the defense. Turnovers — committing too many and forcing too few — have been problems.

Even the coaches have shouldered their share of the blame.

"I must not have prepared us as well as I could've," said Miles, who is 41-10 at LSU. "Without question. I don't pretend for a minute that I'm not looking at me and our coaching staff in a very critical way. If our guys don't understand it, why don't they understand it. I ask that question.

Sometimes the answers are just a little bit harder to explain."

But the Tigers said they're determined to put the frustrations in the past as they prepare for Arkansas. Their likely destination is the Chick-fil-A bowl, but LSU is holding out hope for better.

"We are going to Arkansas and we are going to fight," safety Chad Jones said after the game. "We want to beat them and get in a good bowl game.

There is still a lot to play for this year."

LSU is hoping it can find a spark at quarterback, which has been a problem.

Jarrett Lee has handled most of the snaps but has thrown 16 interceptions.

Seven were returned for touchdowns.

Lee and backup Andrew Hatch are questionable for Friday's game because of injuries. So true freshman Jordan Jefferson is set to become the third quarterback to start this season.

Miles believes Jefferson can give the offense a lift and hopes the Tigers will play more inspired football around him.

"The want to get this team playing well, really revolves around the understanding of just doing your job and relaxing and having fun and enjoying yourself," Miles said. "Playing like LSU has always played.

Instead of anticipating that a mistake will be made, come play that aggressive style of football that we've played offensively, defensively and special teams.

"I think that that's what our team is missing right now."

It's not uncommon among defending national champions. Florida, which won the title in 2006, went 9-4 last season.

But that doesn't matter to Miles, who said his team is in desperate need for a season-ending victory and isn't expecting a letdown Friday. The Tigers might not be fighting for a championship, but they believe there's still plenty to play for.

"We still have two games left," place kicker Colt David said. "We have a lot that we can prove to ourselves. ... We have a good team and we have to come and prove it to everyone."

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